Thursday, 17 October 2013 06:14

Roaming still a worry

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New global roaming research has revealed ‘extraordinary’ price differences that exist both across and within providers.

The research, conducted by ACA Research on behalf of ACCAN (Australian Communications Consumer Action Network), is designed to help consumers make a smarter, more informed choice regarding their roaming provider.

ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said that while carriers had significantly reduced and simplified roaming charges and were lessening the variation between countries, consumers could still get stung if they do not choose the right plan for their specific needs and usage.

“This research highlights the significant price differences on global roaming both across and within providers, as well as the diverse ways of calculating charges,” Corbin said. “Individuals will need to make a judgment based on the particular overseas trip they take and the services they want to use, and may find that high roaming charges mean they are better off changing from a plan that is otherwise good value.”

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have all recently introduced measures to reduce roaming charges. “These changes are a step in the right direction but there is now a confusing array of roaming offers from data packs, to pay as you go to $5 or $10 a day deals. Some of the new plans are data-only or don’t cover all popular travel destinations for Australians.”

Corbin said the key takeaways for consumers from the research are:

  • Avoid using data roaming on prepaid or post-paid plans without a roaming data pack.
  • Roaming call costs are still extremely high unless you’re on one of the new $5 or $10 a day deals from Vodafone or Optus.
  • For calls only you can get a much better deal using a travel sim such as GoSim, Roaming Sim and Travel Sim compared to prepaid and post-paid plans from the main providers.
  • Sending MMS messages through roaming costs a lot, but consumers can avoid these costs by sending photos via online apps provided they are within their data use limits, or by using Wi-Fi.
  • Even checking your voicemail can cost a lot if you’re not careful with roaming usage, so tell people to send an SMS to you instead.

Corbin said the biggest mistake consumers make is to use data roaming on their normal plan “The onus is on consumers to ensure they opt-in to the lower rates because in some older plans, the high roaming prices are still in place,” she said.

“What’s right for each consumer will vary depending on the nature of their travel and how many days they are away. Business people may need to wear the additional cost of roaming for calls, texts and data in order to retain the same phone number. But leisure travellers may find they can get by using roaming just for texts and use Skype or other online applications for calls when they are in a Wi-Fi area.”

A local SIM purchased at the destination may be the most attractive option for some consumers, especially those who are on smaller budgets or those who are planning to be spending a fair bit of time in one country.

“With recent moves by the European Union to cap and even abolish roaming fees within the EU altogether, we believe the time is right for Australia to pursue similar bilateral agreements on roaming starting with putting the Trans-Tasman Roaming Agreement back on the legislative agenda.

“Recently T-Mobile in the US announced it would be eliminating roaming charges across 100 countries. With the global roaming notifications recently introduced for Australians it will be harder to rack up a big bill without realising but beware there can be a delay in receiving these messages,” Corbin said. “Travellers should seek out roaming rates before they leave as sometimes providers have special offers that you need to activate on top of your normal plan.”

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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